The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs have offered lifelines to hundreds of thousands of low to moderate-income Pennsylvania students. Yet many thousands more are wait listed due to arbitrary caps. For too long, these programs have been treated like a political football.
Over the past five years, lawmakers have increased the tax credit cap on the EITC three times. In 2016, lawmakers added $15 million for k-12 scholarships and $2.5 million for pre-k scholarships. In 2017, lawmakers added another $10 million for k-12 scholarships. Most recently in 2018 Gov. Wolf signed a $25 million increase.
The $25 million increase, specifically for K-12 scholarships, will allow another 15,000 students to be served—based on the average scholarship amount of $1,658.
Pennsylvania families deserve more than a one-time bump that leaves many children without access to schools that meet their unique needs.
My colleague Colleen highlighted the fact that tens of thousands of kids are turned away from the scholarship program each year. Later, Nathan wrote about the minuscule size of the program compared to overall education spending and how it saves taxpayer dollars.
When a program succeeds in delivering high quality education at a discounted price, it should be expanded. Or, at very least, grow in proportion with demand. That's what happened in Florida when the legislature enacted an automatic escalator clause back in 2011.
Until Florida's escalator provision, Florida and Pennsylvania's programs tracked similarly. Afterwards, Florida rapidly eclipsed Pennsylvania in scholarships. Florida now awards 107,000 scholarships or more than twice as many as Pennsylvania.
This week Senator Mike Regan introduced automatic escalator legislation mirroring the Florida model. SB 299 allows the EITC and OSTC tax credit caps to grow by 25 percent if 90 percent of the previous year’s tax credits are claimed.
SB 299 recognizes that Pennsylvania parents, not state budget negotiators, should determine how many kids can access scholarships. Every child deserves the opportunity of an education that fits their unique needs